I've had a hard time coming up with my next piece of writing for several reasons: not wanting to bore, not wanting to place something trivial out there in the wake of the Katrina disaster, and wanting to challenge already saavy East Coast readers. As I've pieced together different things that have come to be in the past few weeks, there is a term that blossomed after many talks with my husband, Vincent. That term is "valueless leaders."
My life has been lucky in that it began in the 1970s, when a lot of social service programs, that were planned in the 1950s and '60s, came to fruition. For example, I was able to go to a college preparatory school that was actually public, and it served other middle class and poor black, Latino, Asian, and white students who might not have had such an opportunity otherwise. That program was the result of people who valued education and those who did not have money.
However, by the time I came out of that 7th-12th grade program, in 1989, it was already suffering in terms of funding and community support. The 1980s are now known for the radical growth of suburbanization, inner-city homelessness, social program cuts, tax-cuts for the upper middle classes, and big miltary. It was the beginning of the United States we know today. Here's a good overview of that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_United_States_(1980-1988)
Nonetheless, the effect of the earlier social movements did affect my upbringing, and this was apparent in the art of the time, the new rap music, in particular. I grew up listening to songs like "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash and "Kill the Poor" by The Dead Kennedys. My social awareness was supported by community leaders who would tell it like it is.
This year, Gil Noble, producer and host of "Like It Is," the amazing Sunday morning news program on ABC, nearly lost his show. That is representative of what we value today, or don't value, I should say. Well, luckily, with community support he didn't lose his show, but it was shortened. Still, this morning on the show I was able to see how so many people in the African American community mobilized themselves to help the victims of the Katrina Hurricane. I was able to see how strong black leaders who obtained buses and drove down to New Orleans were arrested because it was assumed the buses were stolen. I was able to hear strong black leaders bring up facts in New York speeches about how Cuba's Fidel Castro was able to evacuate over one million Cubans out of areas that were to be affected by Hurricane Hugo some time ago, but the same efforts were not made by our government in the case of Katrina.
Vincent and I talked about racism and classism, but Vincent said, "There is no word that has been invented to describe the people who are at fault for what is happening in our government. They will slay anyone in order to obtain more for themselves." In this case, the "more" to be obtained is land in New Orleans that will now be bought up by "investors."
I said to Vincent that when I think of my visit to Cuba and everything that my family has gone through in regards to Cuba, I do have strong feelings against Castro, but at least he values education and he does treat most people equally. He definitely wants to be in a class higher than the majority, but at least those in the majority mostly have an equal shot. Blacks are educated there, and the only propaganda I saw there was copious pictures of Che' on billboards and shots of Castro on the little TV that does exist. I do not in any way promote what exists in Cuba, but the fact is that people are much more community-minded, people are educated and read whether they have some money or none, and people know what they are experiencing. It seems to me that there is a huge population of people in the United States who are completely unaware that they, through their taxes, are contributing to slavery and death. My students are so brainwashed that they do not want to educate themselves. I have to take great lengths to convince them that they are valuable, that education is valuable, and that the people next to them are valuable.
This is because the leaders set the precedent. Our current leaders, as shown by the Katrina disaster, value property more than human life. Our leaders, as shown by the current war, value an idea more than human life. Our leaders, as shown by the promoted arts, value a slick product and brainwashing, more than true creativity and the thought-provoking. Our leaders, as shown by our most popular mediums (TV and other screen mediums), value the flashy visual more than the awkward human interaction. All of this adds up to no value at all. We have leaders that are not necessarily racist alone - they simply value nothing. They don't value themselves, for they destroyed their souls long ago.
Real estate dealers buy property and make profit, but at the same time they destroy homes and communities. Wall Street investors buy businesses and make profit, but they destroy jobs and lives. Government officials claim to represent everyone but in the end they represent no one.
Haven't we had enough of this? Are we too afraid to change it? Have we become too comfortable with convenience to actually say, "I want to be a leader of value and not follow a valueless leader?" Are folks really fooled into believing that it is normal to have every amenity in one's home at one's fingertips when there are people, who make our life so convenient by their underpaid work, who have no money for food, even? When will we demand the Value of the Sacred from ourselves? What more does it take?
I've had an idea for a long time, and I'm just throwing it out there because I alone do not have the power to organize people into doing something this drastic. Well, I don't think it is drastic, but many people will. It seems to me that the only thing that Valueless Leaders value is money (which is actually valuing nothing at all, to me), so the only way to affect them is by affecting what they consider their money.
My idea is this: Come April, a significant number of people should hand in their tax returns with huge red marker letters on them that state, "I PROTEST THIS GOVERNMENT AND ITS LACK OF VALUES." There are several reasons why people will be afraid to do this. First of all, the government will know who has sent in such a return, where he/she lives, and will have every right to arrest said person. Second, many people believe that other avenues of protest still work (even though millions of people around the entire globe protesting the Iraq war didn't deter our government). Third, many people will be afraid that the large numbers of people not handing in returns will cause problems in the everyday infrastructure, such as road repair, funding to public hospitals, etc.
All of those are legitimate concerns, but it is still an idea that I have to put out there. I just can't live with the fact that my money is being used to destroy people, not help them. I've had enough. Petitions and picket lines have become meaningless cliches. I want my students to grow up and see how we value the environment and each other, but as it stands they are seeing the exact opposite. It has been proven time and time again that voting is fixed. They cannot drop another bomb or arrest another "looter," who is actually a person who has been moved to help Katrina victims in person instead of donating money to a faceless organization, if they don't have the public's financial support.
I realize my idea might seem crazy or insane or unrealistic to some of you. Please don't judge me for this. John Lennon was often called crazy for writing "Imagine." I cannot help that my unobstructed imagination has brought me to this place. All I ask of you is, what do you think?
P.S. The United States was founded on tax protest. If you didn't learn this in school, here's a link: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/historyofus/web01/.